Nuclear fusion no longer needs millions of degrees: how the new method works

Australian startup HB11 Energy has successfully demonstrated the new technology. One of the co-founders of the company,

physicist by education, developed a project onproducing clean energy using high-power, high-precision lasers. They start thermonuclear reactions between hydrogen and boron-11, instead of heating hydrogen isotopes to temperatures of hundreds of millions of degrees. Two years ago, the company applied for a technology patent.

How does classical thermonuclear fusion work?

Nuclear fusion (in this case we are talking aboutthermonuclear fusion) is a reaction of fusion of light atomic nuclei into heavier ones, occurring at ultrahigh temperatures and accompanied by the release of huge amounts of energy. Such a reaction is the opposite of atomic fission: in the latter, energy is released due to the splitting of heavy nuclei into lighter ones.

Image by Oleg Gamulinskiy from Pixabay

Fusion reactions are fundamentalthe energetic process that powers the stars, including our Sun. There it is provided by hydrogen atoms superheated to tens of millions of degrees. Mankind has been trying to repeat this process here on Earth for many years.

How is the new approach different?

Use of lasers instead of thermonuclearfusion was predicted as early as the 1970s. The author of the idea is an Australian theoretical physicist and co-founder of HB11 Energy, Heinrich Khor from the University of New South Wales. The new way to generate clean energy is radically different from most other fusion reactions, which require hydrogen isotopes to be heated to millions of degrees.

HB11 takes a different approach.As a fuel element, he used a lot of hydrogen and boron-11, and in order to start the fusion reaction, he used an ultra-modern complex of high-precision and powerful lasers.

During the first demonstration of the concept, the reactionthe fusion of hydrogen and boron produced 10 times more thermonuclear reactions than expected. The company says HB11 Energy is now "a global leader in the race to commercialize the holy grail of clean energy."

How it works?

The pilot plant isa metal sphere, in the central part of which there is a small fuel cell. There are also special holes for the operation of laser systems. One of the lasers generates a magnetic field, whose task is to hold the plasma. The second one is responsible for starting a thermonuclear chain reaction.

Schematic representation of the working installation. Photo: HB11 Energy

Nuclear reactions between protons and boron-11 nuclei(synthesis of p-B), which resulted in the appearance of α-particles, were initiated in the plasma. It appeared as a result of the work of a PW-class laser, which was aimed at a boron nitride (BN) target 0.2 mm thick.

The high rate of the p–B synthesis reaction and,therefore, a large flux of α-particles have been created and measured due to the proton flux accelerated at the front surface of the target. This is the first experiment that confirmed the principle of operation of laser fusion. The alpha particles that result from the reaction create an electrical current that can be relayed to the network almost immediately.

It is noteworthy that in hydrogen-boron reactionsa safe and common fuel is used that does not create neutrons in the primary reaction. Thus, they generate negligible amounts of short-lived waste and can provide large-scale power for the basic electrical grid or hydrogen production. The design is not equipped with a heat exchanger and a turbine as unnecessary.

What for?

In the future, these synthesis technologies will replacetraditional sources of energy. Scalable technology will help reverse the effects of global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more

Scientists have named the first sign by which to look for extraterrestrial life

Potentially dangerous asteroid will approach Earth on April Fools' Day

Genetics Beat Cat Allergies With CRISPR